Some advice on teaching LTE in a COVID safe classroom
Below is guidance on teaching LTE in classrooms at the start of the 2020/21 academic year. Some of the solutions are supported with a video clip from a Year 6 classroom for LTE Network teachers only. This has been circulated by email. We hope the guidance offered here, while focused on Let’s Think in English lessons, is of use to colleagues interested in collaborative and dialogic classrooms in general.
Classroom Layout and Groupings
It’s worth remembering LTE has been taught in many different classroom structures with success for over a decade. LTE lessons are undertaken with pupils placed in both table groups and rows.
However, government guidance at the moment suggests all classrooms are in rows and pupils are not able to turn around and discuss. Practically this makes groups larger than 3 difficult and in all likelihood many LTE classes will use pairs
When pupils are working in pairs:
- Try to ensure pupils are in mixed attainment pairs but ensure the attainment gap is not too wide e.g. avoid pairing your highest attaining pupil with your lowest.
- As always consider more than attainment: confidence, turn taking etc.
- Consider classroom layout and which pairs you place next to each other as they may branch out from their pairs and connect with another.
Teachers may request pairs share with each other. It is suggested the individuals closest to each other provide the feedback but there is still a deal of fluidity in responses. However, when pupils are prepared, the pair to pair feedback works well and provides an opportunity to compare and contrast.
Feedback from social construction
Usually LTE teachers circulate the classroom eavesdropping on conversations, assessing pupils’ individual and collective understanding of the question posed, text and progression in the reasoning pattern while considering how to structure whole-class feedback. With the present restrictions stating teachers should remain at the front of the classroom this is more challenging.
We know feedback is crucial for teachers in LTE. One solution is to use mini whiteboards. Mini whiteboards can be helpful in providing feedback on the key points pairs or triads reach. However, ensure that opportunities for discussion precede the summarising of main points. Pupils should continue discussion while listing their main points on the whiteboard.
Some pupils have a tendency to write long responses or full sentences/paragraphs when summarising. This is not particularly helpful in this instance, as the teacher wants a quick snapshot of the main points each group has come to before selecting the order of feedback. Encourage pupils to identify key words or phrases; this is an interesting cognitive challenge.
Teachers can request that one pupil from each pair raise their whiteboard and can scan responses.
As in all LTE lessons, it is important to select the best launch point for discussion. The teacher should select feedback from a pair that opens the discussion to all and enable other pupils to connect their key points.
There are other quick means of both receiving feedback and providing opportunities for the whole class to validate points. A show of hands is an immediate way to ensure other pupils are recognising and responding to a point shared.
Similarly, once pupils have developed a reading of the text you may wish to provide an opportunity for them to highlight key words or phrases. Once more this should only take place after initial discussion and dialogue should continue as key words or phrases to support an argument are highlighted. A highlighted sheets provide the teacher with feedback and an insight into pairs’ thinking. This enables the teacher to evaluate responses, look for consensus or different viewpoints and plot the order of whole class feedback
Another technique used in the LTE classroom that may support the pupils is to provide binary options so a simple A or B. This encourages pupils to take a standpoint and provides them with an initial stance to discuss. When pupils are working in pairs this can be helpful as it ensures both pupils will have an opinion they can seek to support. When pupils are new to LTE and developing their self-efficacy, we sometimes conduct these votes with their eyes closed, reassuring them that no-one will know how they vote. The teacher can provide whole class feedback by summarising their responses e.g. “Most of you think the skeleton was buried a long time ago. Why do you think that?”.
In the current situation, where the class is facing a teacher, it’s important our language encourages collaboration and critical evaluation. Rather than X what did you say, try to connect class responses with exploratory talk cues such as “Can anyone add onto what X said..?”.
Equality of opportunity and ensuring pupils have the time to think
A key principle of Let’s Think in English is equality of opportunity and ensuring all pupils have a time to think and share their thoughts. As in all LTE lessons the teacher must guide the lesson and participation, so equality of opportunity is possible. Perhaps when sitting in rows pupils associate the LTE more closely with a normal LTE lesson. Also, at the start of an academic year pupils need reminding of the “rules” of LTE.
Frequently pupils are very keen to share their ideas but tend to put their hands up. A good rule of thumb is for teachers to select who provides the feedback from pairs, bounces initial ideas to other pupils and once arguments are established invite further thoughts.
However, it is likely that certain pairs will not have the same processing power that a triad or group of 4 may have. Furthermore, an individual in a pair may still be developing their ability to listen and may expect their partner to respond on their behalf. Pupil efficacy is supported by inviting pupils to contribute and support them through their struggle.
While many peers are willing to contribute, a teacher may select an individual who is less forthcoming to share their thoughts. Pupils can be supported by being informed they will be providing the feedback, so they have time to rehearse their ideas. However, it is important pupils are accountable in LTE and understand they are expected to contribute, and recognise that all contributions are valued and help us to understand a text and develop our thinking.
There may be a tendency move on from pupils who are reluctant or unwilling to contribute and select another, but this should be resisted. Further time for social construction is normally sufficient and also provides time for everyone to clarify their ideas.
Often a brief 20 second opportunity to recap in pairs is sufficient for the reticent pupil to provide brief input from their discussion which their partner can build on. While feedback may be sparse at first as pupils can gain confidence or familiarity with contributing, it is an important first step.
Sometimes despite the opportunity to discuss with a partner, a pupil continues to struggle to respond. An option is to provide the pupil with a binary option. An A or B which provokes them into a response and taking a stance. Ideally one would follow up their selection by asking: “Why do you think that?”. We must also be sensitive to pupils’ feelings. A contribution no matter how brief can be a first step towards greater involvement. LTE is focused on long-term behaviours rather than short-term solutions and a spirit of collaboration and critical evaluation must be developed over time.
Whole class feedback
It is important that the feedback an individual provides is representative of the discussion pairs or triads enjoyed. When feedback reflects the group discussion only one person is speaking but all voices are heard. We usually train pupils into this habit by encouraging them to start feedback with “we said, or we discussed”. It is more difficult for the teacher to monitor this during social construction as they are unable to circulate in the room however we can listen for indicators in the feedback. Listen for cues like reference to peers, so we are reassured multiple points of view are being assimilated. You can invite partners to build or embellish ideas: “Do you have anything to add?” “Could you tell me more about …?”
LTE Lesson Structure
We know LTE lessons are designed to increase in difficulty as we move towards cognitive conflict. Usually we have the luxury of exploring first thoughts through concrete preparation and address misunderstandings or key words. Working in pairs some pupils may find initial understanding of texts more difficult. You may wish to address keywords directly and enable frequent summaries of the text and ideas shared. It’s worth remembering how important concrete preparation is in the LTE structure in preparing pupils for cognitive conflict. Pupils can’t think deeply about what they don’t understand. It may be the case that in some LTE lessons the teacher may have to provide greater input to ensure understanding.
We know classes respond differently to LTE lessons and even when trying some of the suggestions in this guidance, teaching LTE in the present climate may still prove challenging. The LTE behaviours you seek to encourage may be very different to the emphasis your colleagues may be placing in other subjects. Understandably, pupils will find shifting their behaviour between lessons tricky. Starting LTE lessons with a reminder of the ethos, behaviours and rules will help.
It maybe you spend more time on certain LTE pillars than you usually would. For example, the application stage that follows cognitive conflict can provide a more hands on activity and an opportunity to work individually. At this point pupils often consider minor edits to the text they are studying. They’ve had an opportunity to discuss possibilities before making the edits. Some pupils continue to collaborate as they edit text while others drift in and out of individual work. As always when taking feedback, emphasise the need to justify and explain choices rather than just presenting edits.
You may also wish to consider starting Bridging within the lesson. While you may wish to set a written task, frequently setting a simple comparison question between the LTE text and a text the class are already familiar with works well. Pupils could use post-it notes or a table to record their discussions before a whole class review.